Marianne Crebassa, mezzosoprano
Alexandre Tharaud, piano
François-Xavier Roth, conductor
The title of Sabine Devieilhe’s album Mirages refers to the fascination of the Western countries towards the exotic in the 19th century, when the interest for the unheard of customs of the colonies ignited the imagination of several composers, who attempted to describe mythical and remote lands in their operas and in other short works. Usually, the charm of exotic places was associated in music with the ethereal and sweet-sounding voice of the coloratura soprano in the suggestive works composed by Léo Delibes, Ambroise Thomas, Hector Berlioz, Jules Massenet and by their less famous colleagues.
This interest does not concern only the Far East of operas as Lakmé or Madame Chrysanthème, derived from the same source of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, but also heroines from closer countries as Ophélie, who has been celebrated not only in the mad scene by Thomas in Hamlet, but also in a song about her death composed by Berlioz in 1842.
In this overview, soprano Sabine Devieilhe lays the foundation of her wonderful project that, by her own admission, took shape from her interest on the character of Lakmé, which is – not by chance – a recurring presence in Mirages as her two arias and the famous Flower Duet are placed at the beginning, in the middle and the very end of the recording.
Devieilhe is a superb Lakmé as in this role the crystalline beauty of her voice and her innate sweetness blend very well together. Her sound technique, perfect intonation and impeccable stylistic choices make the three pieces mesmerising: it is impossible not to be spellbound by Devieilhe’s luminous echo of the bells in the air des clochettes, by the wonderful contrast – or better harmony – of her voice with that of mezzosoprano Marianne Crebassa in the Flower Duet and by her pitiful, poetic Tu m’as donné le plus doux rêve that, far as it is from any display of virtuosity is remarkable for its simple and yet touching frankness. These three pieces alone are worth the entire Mirages and they promise a success, if and when Devieilhe will fulfil her wish to sing Lakmé on stage.
Devieilhe achieves same excellent result in À vos yeux, mes amis, Ophélie’s mad scene from Hamlet, where Devieilhe sings with confidence and sensitivity even the most difficult passages to portray her unlucky heroine as an ethereal and yet pitiful creature. The delicate Mes longus cheveux descendent from Pelléas et Mélisande is a different matter in everything except in the excellence with which Devieilhe sings the unaccompanied song.
Apart from popular operas, Mirages offers several excerpts from little known works as André Messager’s Madame Chrysanthème, of which Devieilhe sings the Valse des cigales with suggestive softness, and especially from Maurice Delage’s Quatre poèmes Hindous, a set of four short songs dedicated to the Indian cities of Madras, Lahore, Bénarès and Jeypur that Devieilhe sings with abandonment and rapturous contemplation. Without forgetting the charming duet Celle qui vient est plus belle from Massenet’s Thaïs, which offers to Devieilhe another chance to show off her bravura in the long vocalises that accompany the dance, it must be remembered also the unabashed beauty of La chanson d’Ariel and of Le Rossignol, where Devieilhe performs many vocal acrobatics with enviable agility and never losing sweetness and elegance.
One last thing to note is that Devieilhe sings with one of the clearest dictions that you could wish for and that allows even a listener who does not know a word of French to follow easily the text and that is a good feature despite the tendency to emphasize too much the consonant “r”.
The Mirages of this recording do not appear so distant anymore thanks to Sabine Devieilhe’s artistry. As her two previous recordings Rameau and The Weber Sisters, Mirages is a wonderful album with an interesting guiding thread and a unblemished achievement.